I would NEVER pay $123.50 for a shelter book, which is why I’m only now getting around to The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé (Vendome Press). I have coveted this title since first seeing it late last year, but only recently did it find its way to my favorite book reseller, Toronto’s BMV, where I scooped up a copy for $49. I have yet to find a discounted edition of the Christie’s hardcover catalogue from “the sale of the century,” The Yves Saint Laurent Pierre Bergé Collection (Flammarion), but a friend has kindly loaned me his copy so I could blog about it here.
Both books are exceptional and surprisingly different; Private World is a compendium of photos by Ivan Terestchenko (with text by Robert Murphy), who was invited to capture the sumptuous opulence of Saint Laurent and Bergé’s seven homes before they were stripped for a 2009 auction at Paris’s Grand Palais. More than 30,000 art lovers toured the preview before the first hammer fell on February 23, 2009. When the sale was over three days later, the collection had raised an astonishing $483.8 million, the highest total ever for an auction held in Europe according to Auction Central News.
As reports from the sale rolled in I was certain I was seeing typos in the reporting: nearly $30,000,000 for a single chair?!!? Surely the copy editor had mistakenly added an extra zero. But no, that’s the price Eileen Gray’s Dragons Armchair, above left, fetched, a world record for any piece of 20th-century decorative art. Matisse’s 1911 canvas, Cowslips, Blue and Pink Fabric, above right, was the priciest piece from the sale, realizing $46.4 million for the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation supporting scientific research in the fight against AIDS.
But this post isn’t about the sale, it’s about the books that document the collection and the homes in which the pieces were displayed and cherished. “We lived amid all these masterpieces ‘naturally,’ without feeling we were in a museum,” writes Bergé in the preface to the Christies book. “We never specialized in a genre or style. On the contrary, it gave us pleasure to see Burne-Jones rubbing shoulders with Frans Hals, Jean Court with Eileen Gray, Jean-Michel Frank with Goya, and so many others, simply for the glory of art.”
As the vignette above demonstrates, Saint Laurent and Bergé were unapologetic maximalists. Their principle residence on Rue de Babylone in Paris was a trove of some of the finest furnishings and artworks ever made. Bergé may claim not to favour a single style but the couple was especially partial to Art Deco. Superb examples of works by Gray and Frank, as well as Leleu, Dunand, Ruhlmann and Lalanne stand out among the older 17th, 18th and 19th century antiquities.
And while Deco and many of the works of art in the couple’s collection are modern in spirit, overall the pair leaned more strongly towards the traditional. For every modern tableau like the one below left, there are nine more trad settings like the library in the duo’s Rue Bonaparte apartment, below right.
Their salons and dining rooms were layered with the finest crystal chandeliers and centuries old chairs, mirrors, bronzes and cameos.
Private World documents seven of the couple’s homes including two in Morocco (Villa Oasis in Marrakech, below) and Chateau Gabriel in Deauville, France (above).
As splendid as Terestchenko’s photos undoubtedly are, individual details blur together when seen in such dense groupings. This is where the Christies’ entry really shines; individual objects are shown in situ and then in close-up revealing nuances that could never be conveyed any other way. There is also an addendum, organized by lot number, citing the final hammer price paid for each item in the sale.
If you love beautiful things and your taste runs deeper than contemporary and mid-century modern, I strongly recommend these books. Having now spent time with both titles, I have to concede that they actually justify their high retail prices. Would I recommend one over the other? No, they’re both worthy and work together as a beautiful companion set.
All photos by Ivan Terestchenko © 2009 courtesy of The Vendome Press, New York, except portrait of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé by Patrick Demarchelier © 2002